Ahead of his album due for release later this year, Femi Kuti, eldest son of afrobeat pioneer, Fela kuti, embarked on a 34-day tour of the United States and Canada – a tour that saw him and his Positive Force band crisscross major cities in the US.
PREMIUM TIMES reporter in Washington DC, Bisi Olanipekun, interviewed the multiple Grammy nominated musician on telephone a day before his performance in Washington DC; he spoke about his music, late father, and his ongoing tour of the United States.
On his forthcoming album, Femi tells his fans “to wait to hear what’s in it – it will be a universal album.”
I prodded Femi on his impression about the music industry in Nigeria and his advice for the younger generation of artistes, he was quick to say that “first of, we do not have an industry, what we have is a music scene which is okay.”
On advice to the younger generation of artistes, he was quick to throw a rhetoric question, “How can you call yourself a musician when you can’t play a musical instrument?
“They are only entertainers and not musicians. You must be able to play at least one musical instrument because there is a time in every musician’s life when the storm comes, and its only your musical instrument that will help you overcome such hard times.”
Earning his stripes as a youngster playing the sax in his father’s band, Egypt 80, I sought to know in what way was Femi’s lifestyle and music different from his father’s?
He says he doesn’t like talking about it because people always misunderstand him.
“I love my father, I don’t see a competition. Of course, there must be some similarities – it is like saying I don’t look like my father, if I don’t look like my father we have to ask my mother.
“The foundation of my music is another similarity but I believe by now I have found my voice and expanded,” he says.
On ‘Finding Fela’ the bio documentary on the life of Fela Kuti, I wanted to know if Femi thought that was the best ever documentary film on his father.
“The play (Fela!) yes, but not the documentary-the play was excellently done.”
I asked about the Shrine and whether the state or federal government had been supportive considering past police harassments.
He retorted by saying that “sometimes the Lagos state government has played some part in Felabration but that was about it.”
On the upcoming Felabration – an annual musical festival in memory and celebration of Fela Kuti, Femi says he doesn’t belong to the organizing committee.
“I only address Felabration at the end and I’m in charge of making sure the security is adequate. I don’t book artistes I don’t know who is coming I don’t get involved in the administrative part of Felabration.”
On his impression of his fan base here in the United States and what his favorites cities are, Femi replies, “You are a pressman. Have you not been reading the responses of the fans? You want me to be arrogant about it.
“Some of my favourites cities include Chicago, San- Francisco, New York, Minneapolis, Washington DC. They are quite a few because America is very big; bottom line is we are always breaking new grounds, which is very important a new generation gets to hear what we are doing they love what we are doing and we are just expanding.
“The music business should expand forever. It should expand till you die. You are either diminishing or expanding as a musician. So I think we are still expanding and its being good.”
Fast forward to his performance at the nation’s capital in Washington DC. – 9:30 Club to be precise, a club Femi says is one of his favourites spot to play in.
Although his performance was scheduled for 9:40pm, the show didn’t begin until about 10:20pm.
There was a reason for the delay – a queue had formed outside the club waiting to get their tickets into the gig.
Femi, backed by a 12-piece hyperactive ensemble that consisted three singers clad in colourful revealing garb, a four-piece horn section, a guitarist, a percussionist and two drummers did not disappoint his fans.
Oscillating between his saxophone and keyboard while also singing and dancing, he occasionally pushed at unseen barriers – probably put in place by leaders he repeatedly poured invectives at.
The singer and his Positive Force were not, in the words of Poet Dylan Thomas, going ‘gentle into that goodnight.’
He churned out songs from previous albums, which included Africa for Africa, Oyinbo, Politics Na Big Business, Wey Our Money, Truth Don Die, Nothing to Show For It, The World Is Changing, Sorry Sorry, No Place For My Dream et al, including the enthralling Water No Get Enemy in homage of his late father.
After about 90 minutes of hypnotic rhythm, blistering energy, and superb musical coordination on stage, and wrapping the 9:30 Club crowd in the palm of his hands, Femi made his exit, followed briskly by his band.
But the crowd screamed for an encore, chanting Femi’s name repeatedly at the top of their voices.
‘Shoki’ (one of his many appellations) shocked the audience – reappeared almost like a magician and promised the audience three more numbers (in addition to the dozen or so he already dished out for the night).
The crowd went into frenzy mode when the last of the three promised songs came up – ‘ Beng Beng Beng I Just Dey Go O…’
Two hours of devastating sound and unrelenting groove it was from Femi who had gotten drenched in his own sweat from a performance he infused both protest and party in the same beat.
It was a night Femi succeeded in firing up the head, the heart and the feet, ultimately leaving the crowd spellbound with tunes that will stick in their heads like peanut butter to the cliff of their mouths till when next he meets them.